New Delhi: Over two
decades back, visually impaired student Dipendra Manocha stood
outside Delhi University's Hindu College waiting to get an
application written. After the life-altering struggle of finding a
writer, Manocha set himself on a mission - helping the blind read
Manocha, 45, introduced reading aids and support mechanisms for
the visually challenged. India has over 15 million blind.
Today Manocha juggles between managing three such organisations
that help the blind 'read'.
"I was a research student at Hindu College at that time searching
for someone who could write a simple application for me. It was
baffling because I was literate and the dependency made me feel
handicapped," Manocha recalled.
The bitter experience kicked off a journey on innovation that
Manocha had never thought of.
"That very moment I decided there has to be a solution to this. A
blind needs to be empowered to be able to read and write on his
own," Manocha told IANS.
Even after losing his vision at the age of 12 due to a genetic
disorder, Manocha completed his research in Indian classical
music. Throughout his education, the dependence on a reader and
writer was hard-hitting, he says.
"There are provisions for special students. But during higher
education, being visually challenged could mean waiting for
someone to write your exams and that person would never turn up at
times," Manocha, who lives with his father in central Delhi, told
There were times when the Delhi-based entrepreneur sat surrounded
by bookshelves at the Arts faculty library - with the hope of
being able to read them some day.
It was in 1993 that Manocha left his full-time career in music and
gave up a government job to plunge into the dark world of the
Manocha still feels it was the toughest call of his life.
"It was really tough as I was leaving a PhD fellowship and had to
be financially dependent on my parents for long," he says.
"Why do we confine disabled in cliches? Is it fair to ask a blind
engineer to stop thinking of technology and indulge in candle
making," Manocha questioned.
The thought of empowering the blind clicked in his mind. In 2005,
Manocha received the national award for his contributions in the
area of disability.
"I saw this computer with voice commands at NAB after which I said
to myself - this is exactly what I need! So we started a journey
on coming up with more such technology-based solutions for
reading, writing," he explained.
In 1993, when he started working at the National Association for
Blind (NAB), a voluntary organisation, he came across a computer
with speech synthesiser and screen-reading software.
"The idea at that time was not just rehabilitation, but to bring
the blind into the mainstream," Manocha, the former director,
information-technology services at NAB, said.
He also took the first printout from a sophisticated braille
printing machine at NAB.
He now has to his credit over 80 technological solutions for the
blind. The aids and appliances range from a talking mobile phone
to digital talking books at lowest possible cost.
Interestingly, Manocha fondly remembers the first novel he was
able to read on this 'talking computer'.
"Oh! It was Dracula. It was a phenomenal feeling," the former
musician breaks into a laugh. He quit his PhD in classical music
in 2003 to set up the Saksham Trust for empowering the blind.
Over the last two decades, Manocha and his team have helped
provide publications in accessible formats to those who cannot
read normal print, easy-computer operating tools and unique online
braille library with 19,000 downloadable books in digital format.
The avid reader also heads the Digital Accessible Information
System (DAISY) For All -- part of an international organisation
that provides digital talking books for the blind.
Manocha feels the tools are a way of liberating the blind, "We
have capsuled each and every solution to suit Indian needs. There
is Hindi language in softwares, text reader and
Some of the recent developments in Manocha's organisation includes
a talking thermometer for Rs. 250, a talking qwerty phone and a
digital handi-cam among others.
But the road does not end here, he says.
"There is still a lot to be done. There are barriers and new paths
to be covered. I have this sense of responsibility for others," he
His motto is far to go before he sleeps.
(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at email@example.com)